REVIEW: A Better Tomorrow (1986) - ManlyMovie

REVIEW: A Better Tomorrow (1986)


In Hong Kong circa 1986, gangsters Sung Tse-Ho (Ti Lung) and Mark (Chow Yun-Fat) are best friends. Ho’s younger brother Sung Tse-Kit (Leslie Cheung), to whom he is quite close with as well, wants to be a police officer, unaware that his brother is a criminal. In an unfortunate series of events, Ho is double-crossed during a set-up and turns himself in to the police, while Mark gets injured in retribution. Kit’s reputation is tarnished as a result of Ho’s arrest. Sometime later, a reformed Ho is released from prison and tries to reconcile with Kit, whom he is now estranged with, but the ties to his former gang are difficult to break.

Tsui Hark. Ringo Lam. Johnnie To. These are the filmmakers who helped shaped the Hong Kong Action Cinema scene to what it is today. I’d like collectively group them all and dub them as the Kings of Hong Kong Action Cinema. The fourth king, John Woo, was the one whose film started it all – A Better Tomorrow.

This is a piece of film history – the one that put John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat on the HK Cinema map. Most interestingly, this was arguably where the “heroic bloodshed” genre started, where brothers on opposite sides of the law are forced to face one another and/or team up, often with violent and melodramatic results. Has it really been 30 years since this HK classic first wowed audiences? The trench-coats, sunglasses, cigarettes… I mean, this movie was the one that started an entire fashion trend among the youths in Hong Kong. Just goes to show how big of an impact this film had in the Hong Kong Film Industry, let alone action cinema history.

All three leads perform well with their given roles, remarkable considering John Woo’s knack for overblown melodrama is both his biggest strength and his Achilles’ heel. While Lung and Cheung are quite excellent as the conflicted brothers on opposite sides, it is Chow who, as usual, steals the show as a part-comedic, mostly-lunatic gangster who blows bad guys with a Beretta in each hand, seemingly always with unlimited ammo. Lots of bullets hit flesh, things explode in sparks and blood. It’s a John Woo film, after all. It even has a favourite trope of mine, the climactic nighttime-at-the-docks sequence where stuff goes down in a hail of bullets and buckets of gasoline. It may be too stylized for some action aficionados looking for something grounded in grit as per Lam’s or To’s entries, but, again, this is John Woo we’re dealing with here.

Although dated in terms of melodrama (which seems truly cheesy when compared to both today’s gritty entries by David Ayer or South Korean cinema, as well as the classic film/neo-noirs of Hollywood), Woo’s film remains a seminal staple and landmark in action film history, not only for introducing the dream star-director team that is John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat, but also for creating a whole new genre that influenced future Hollywood productions made from the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, the Wachowskis, and even Walter Hill.

An action surgeon, indeed.


[amazon text=Amazon&asin=B005G2SB3U]


  1. crocop97

    September 15, 2016 at 11:51 am

  2. jim

    September 15, 2016 at 12:15 pm

    Good review…Love my heroic bloodshed…but….I’ve always had a problem with the tendency to slapstick in HK cinema. I like my macho straight up..Much as I enjoy the best films by John Woo and Ringo Lam there are always a few scenes that I think are OTT ..When it comes to HK cinema I prefer Johnnie To’s more serious films where the humour is kept in check…most of Woo’s films get a bit silly at times….A Better Tomorrow and The Killer are easily his best….and Chow Yung Fat could not be more cool in Alain Delon’s sunglasses.

    • AlTeo

      September 16, 2016 at 2:13 am

      Yeah I kind of get where you’re coming from in regards to the slapstick in HK violence, sometimes it tends to come off as frothy. Was never a particular fan of that, unless Jackie Chan was involved, he somehow made it work in his films.

      In regards to being over the top, Woo has his own style of OTT and I really enjoy it, when compared to the OTT styles of, say, Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich. Those two seem to have enjoyed too much suspension of disbelief in their action sequences that affect the plot; Woo’s sequences basically exaggerate Peckinpah’s slo-mo. At least, that’s what I think.

      • jim

        September 16, 2016 at 3:09 am

        I agree…Think I’ll clear my schedule for a weekend binge of heroic bloodshed…It’s been a while….

  3. Mucho Macho

    September 15, 2016 at 12:18 pm

    Got this movie on DVD & I haven’t watched the movie in a while & after reading this review I have the urge to go & watch the film.
    Good review amigo👍

  4. Andymovieman

    September 15, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    A better tomorrow was good but if you ask me I like the second one better because before the last battle chow Yun fat’s twin brother and his allies are dressed in black suits ready for battle at a funeral like face/off.

    • Barney Ross

      September 15, 2016 at 2:54 pm

      The 2nd is much better in every way, except maybe the story not sure.

  5. Mucho Macho

    September 15, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    • jim

      September 15, 2016 at 1:02 pm

      I thought Tarantino didn’t rate The Fat…Sure I’ve read him heaping dogs abuse on the guy.

      • Mucho Macho

        September 15, 2016 at 5:43 pm

        Who knew?

        • jim

          September 15, 2016 at 6:39 pm

          I did.

          • Mucho Macho

            September 15, 2016 at 8:31 pm


  6. Barney Ross

    September 15, 2016 at 2:53 pm

    Why 8 pal, this and the sequel deserve a 10, better tomorrow 3 deserve a 8. One of the best movie ever made.

    • AlTeo

      September 16, 2016 at 2:18 am

      I do like all three films, and yea the first two films are the best, but Woo has nowhere to go but up from here on out. I gave the first two ABT movies, Broken Arrow an 8; Bullet in the Head, Hard Target and Face Off a 9.

      The 10 went to both The Killer and Hard Boiled.

  7. crocop97

    September 15, 2016 at 5:04 pm

    Where can I find these badass sunglasses, fucking manly

  8. Mainline DnB

    September 15, 2016 at 6:47 pm

    “A part-comedic, mostly-lunatic gangster who blows bad guys with a Beretta in each hand…”

    He does WHAT in this film?!

    • AlTeo

      September 16, 2016 at 2:14 am

      Whoops, blows AWAY.
      How’d I miss that… 😛

    • jim

      September 16, 2016 at 12:55 pm


  9. The Night Rider

    September 15, 2016 at 10:05 pm

    Test 2: Comment errors at front.